I understand that this is very important to you

One of the texts on my “summer reading” list was “The Plague” (by Albert Camus). I had never read anything of Camus’ before, and I was stunned by his immense ability to explicate intricate details of human thought and behavior, and also very eloquently at that:

this attitude implies that such actions shine out as rare exceptions, while callousness and apathy are the general rule [1]

Albert Camus, “The Plague”

I am at a point right now, where I sense callousness and apathy from all sides, while I go under in a pool of bullshit as if I were sinking in quicksand.

One of my central missions, ideas and struggles over the past couple decades has been raising awareness for the illness I refer to as “retard media” (you would not be severely wrong to equate this with what many other people refer to as “social media”, but you would actually be largely wrong – for more on this, see my definition of “retard media”). Recently, Netflix published a documentary called “The Social Dilemma” – and this documentary echoes a lot of what I have been saying all along (except that the proposed solution is actually quite remarkably along the lines of “more of the same”).

More of the same bullshit: What a dismal outlook for humanity. I have said for many years already, that I am not at all proud of the species I apparently belong to.

Retard media is not the only catastrophic disaster happening in our world, but regretably it’s one most people don’t get — let alone do they realize that it is indeed a catastrophic disaster that works like a catalyst, a steroid to boost the power of humanity’s ignorance of other catastrophic disasters most humans seem very callous and apathetic towards. Boost the power! Boost the power of ignorance – that is what humanity has come to. I distinctly remember sitting on a sofa with my brother and sister, sometime in the last millennium, watching a weather report during a hurricane event. The weatherman was babbling on about some statistics, and then said something like “let’s see what our reporter out on the beach is experiencing” … and I commented “let’s go to the videotape” … and my bother completely cracked up. Of course kids today may have never even heard of the expression “let’s go to the videotape”, but there was an era of sportscasting highlights where this expression was as regular, ordinary and standard as greeting someone on the street with a “hello” or “good day”. Today, the expression shines out like a rare antiquity of a bygone era, but what remains standard is the monetization of the incredible, the sensationalist, the clickbait.

There’s a sucker born every minute” seems as steadfast today as the day P.T. Barnum was alleged to have said it, centuries ago.

This week, an online friend said / wrote to me (essentially – I have slightly changed the wording, in order to protect the privacy of my friend … but the meaning of the statement is, IMHO, still the same): “I understand that this is very important to you” — and added that this is simply not on their radar – not in the slightest (*). At first, I was very appreciative of their apparent empathy, but then on second (or maybe third) thought it slowly began to dawn on me what the significance of “to you” in this expression is (after all, following Zipf’s insights into the economics of expressions [in particular the one known as the “principle of least effort”], there must be something to motivate someone to express those two additional syllables which would alternatively seem superfluous). Also following Gricean maxims of implicature, it must be that “this” in the above expression is apparently deemed not important in the standard case.

Is that callous or apathetic? Or is it really just me?

(*) Here I would like to note that this perspective on my work is not at all a “rare exception”, but rather that it has been the incessantly repeated callousness and apathy I have come to know only too well, staring me in the face non-stop, day in and day out.
[1] The full paragraph reads (in English translation): “But the narrator is inclined to think that by attributing overimportance to praiseworthy actions one may, by implication, be paying indirect but potent homage to the worse side of human nature. For this attitude implies that such actions shine out as rare exceptions, while callousness and apathy are the general rule. The narrator does not share that view. The evil that is in the world always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence, if they lack understanding.”
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Patronizing Patrons Outside Your Own Community vs. Being a Patron Inside Your Own Community

One of my good friends (the kind that actually try to push back on the kinds of things I often say) has been hammering away for some time at my attitude – sort of calling it patronizing.

I beg to differ.

But before I address that, let me note something about “patronage”. I think this general term means vastly different things in different contexts or from different perspectives. I think it has a lot to do with “in-group” (“we” / “us”) vs. “out-group” (“the others”) perspective. From a narcissist’s point of view, patronizing attitude is a “looking down upon” the out-group. I can sense this perspective if / when I think about the others being fooled by propaganda, for example. In this case, they are / become the patrons of propaganda and thereby consume it as factual, unquestionable, etc. Being a patron in the context of communications, understanding or similar exercises in enlightenment means clarifying, contextualizing, contributing to “sense-making” (much in the tradition of Brenda Dervin’s use of the term).

Much of what I say here was precipitated on a discussion between Joe Rogan and Melissa Chen, broadly about free speech, but in particular and quite poignantly their agreement that if people shut down free speech, then it is often because of an attitude of patronizing others (i.e., to use Joe Rogan’s words):

“Those people are dumber than you; you’re smarter; you know better; you need to stop these people from being tricked [by propaganda]” [#1427 “Melissa_Chen”, 1:01:55; the discussion of this topic begins @ just shy of 58 min.].

Another primary factor in this analysis is the separation into “in-group” vs. “out-group”. For our purposes here, we will simplify this as a simple demarcation of linguistic communities – and we need not get into the precise specification of dialect, slang, jargon,etc. sub-communities. For us, it will suffice to paint the picture in broad strokes without getting caught up in the fine details of ands, ifs, buts, etc.

Now if people look at others and point fingers, saying the other people think this way or that way, then I think this is patronizing. I feel this must happen when anyone functions as (takes on the role of) writers or readers. The writer or the reader treats each other as others – as dialectical partners. If communication channels are closed (as they typically are in the case of retard media), then the linguistic communities are separated. If, on the other hand, communication channels are open to participation, if community engagement is possible, welcomed, even desired and warm invitations are expressed and clearly communicated, then participants who actually do engage and communicate are thereby contributing to the discourse and engaging in the development of the shared, common language. I believe my own work (i.e., what I refer to as engagement with “rational media”) falls into the latter category. The former is patronizing, the latter is being / acting as a patron of the shared / common language – in the development of mutual understanding, by engaging in negotiation of meaning.

If / When I point out that retard media is built on a “propaganda” model, I do not patronize the patrons of that business model – they inflict that upon themselves by engaging / participating in that community. The institutions patronizing them are the advertisers (those who are responsible for the advertisements), not the persons who observe / point out the way advertising industry works, the way the participants in that industry are behaving, engaging, interacting, etc. with their targets.

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Automatism + Automaticity – What is my role?

While writing the previous episodes, I wondered how other people would react to them. I decided to publish them even though I think most people are not very concerned about the well-being of others. I expect most people will react with something like “what do I care what happens after I die? I only want money here + now while I’m alive”.

Whether that’s labeled as “self-centered” or “egotistical”, I don’t care to make that judgment call – many will gladly refer to something like Adam Smith’s notion of “enlightened self-interest” (or more current might be Lily Allen’s “Everyone’s at it” 😉 ).

What has become more clear to me is how people’s behavior probably masks some much more deeply held beliefs (in the sense of repressed thoughts). People do not so much try to defy nature or evolution as they try to cover up their own fears or discomfort with feeling small or insignificant. They do not want to go out on a limb and risk being laughed out of the room.

Therefore, they will not play the Holy Fool, but rather play it safe and agree with the majority. The bandwagon effect capitalizes on these fears and insecurities to foster compliance with the proposed propaganda regime.

I am happy that I have now figured out an explanation for the observed mainstream compliance that does not require me to explain it with illiteracy. This allows me to maintain that it is at least possible that some people are not illiterate, but rather that they perhaps simply choose to make what seems to be irrational decisions for some other reason.

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Automatism + Automaticity – Let’s do this right!

In the previous episode, I raised some concerns about how automatism and automaticity affect us, our technologies and therefore also the world in general. I quoted a line from Malcolm Gladwell’s most recent book, “Talking to strangers” – but I didn’t mention how he noted that although Holy Fools (people who are foolish enough to criticize the social order when they sense that something is wrong) are necessary, they are not sufficient (in his words: “we can’t all be Holy Fools” [19:10] ).

Mr. Gladwell’s book is mostly about communication between individual humans (this is also known as “interpersonal communication”). This is a very important technology, but it is not the only technology we need to think about. Automatism is also a crucial technology – and I think we need to pay more attention to it.

We can hopefully all still recall from our biology classes in school that the process of evolution includes several aspects. One fundamental pillar to the way evolution works is the aspect of variation – and this does indeed echo Gladwell’s sentiment that a homogeneous population of only Holy Fools would probably not work very well. In the theory of evolution, survival of a species depends on enough variation within the species to ensure that the species does not completely succumb to an attack from one vector.

My understanding of computers leads me to believe that this is a significant difference between machines and evolutionary technology (also known as “life” 😉 ). While life thrives on variation, machines thrive on standardization. Half a century ago, the pioneers of the Internet Age made a decision that recognizes this vulnerability inherent in computer technology – and therefore they built an Internet that was based on a principle of decentralization (and thereby implicitly also a system based on trust in the evolutionary principle of strengthening by variation).

While it may be acceptable to dismiss the occasional Bernie Madoff as a cost of doing business, a Bernie Madoff every day is a different thing. Or even worse: an existential threat. In any case, relying on one monopolistic technology is not a recipe for success – or even survival.

We have years, decades, even centuries long legacies of technologies based on “one right way” of thinking – and it’s easy to see why. Against a medieval backdrop of unenlightened quackery, witchcraft and whatnot, the Enlightenment delivered astoundingly reliable results. Newton and the like delivered mathematical formulas, scientific methods, accuracy and precision. True and false became undeniable facts.

Folk psychology is the kind of crude psychology we glean from cultural sources such as sitcoms — but that is not the way things happen in real life.

Malcolm Gladwell, “Talking to Strangers”, chapter 6, audio version 26:20

In real life, true and false are very far from being undeniable facts. One might even argue that undeniable facts are not undeniable facts. Today the widespread fanatical devotion to data is no longer tempered with a reasonable understanding of how data collection actually works.

The expression “it’s complicated” is perhaps the quintessential embodiment of the kind of insight we need more of now – more than ever. We need to say goodbye to “one right way” and we need to say hello to diversity, variations from norms and differentiation in algorithms.

Differentiating in algorithms means becoming aware of context, realizing that different perspectives require different qualifications, understanding that variation in nature requires variation in (and in particular: qualitative) measurement. Otherwise, all those numbers will only glaze over and we won’t be able to distinguish apples from oranges.

Doing this right requires many right ways, not one right way.

This also means that an essential requirement for doing this right is that we need to accept and embrace complexity. This is something that has traditionally become ever more marginalized in the modern scientific method – modern science has traditionally preferred simplicity to complexity. Is that because of our own way of thinking? Is human automatism at odds with the automatism of natural evolution?

[thank u, next]

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Automatism + Automaticity – 20th Century

If you thought my previous introduction was dark, then if you use your imagination a little to color in the details of what comes next, then you may actually begin to lose your faith in humanity – but I choose to spare you such sketches, because I myself don’t even want to have to stomach such gory images of reality. *

Throughout the 20th Century, there was much interest in automatism and automaticity. The beginnings of this interest can easily be traced far back into the 19th Century, but rather than meticulously detailing the historical background, let me point out that the interest in these topics was from several different sources. Industrialization generally raised interest in machinery and automation. At the same time, Marxist ideas contrasted capital with labor. There was also much scientific interest in logic and reasoning, and finally there were also significant scientific advances in medicine and also in related fields such as psychology.

By the middle of the 20th Century, a new industry known as “media” had become established – and this new industry (with roots in publishing dating back several hundred years, ultimately to the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press) was strongly aligned with and likewise strongly based in capitalism. This led to much research and development in promoting and increasing the productivity of capital investment, resulting in less interest in human-centered (“humanist”) analyses (final result: more interest in profit maximization).

In this context, there was an increasing divergence between machinery and automation on the one hand, and human interests (including notions of “humanity” and “humane behavior”) on the other. Increasingly, humans became an input into algorithms focused on maximizing other measures, such as output or profit. Today, automatism is popularly viewed as a dystopic Luddite horror story rather than in a context of scientific fascination with natural phenomena.

The ideal scenario in this scheme is the “making money while you sleep” image, that of a fat slob sipping a drink, gazing at bathing beauties, while relaxing under a palm tree along the beach on some remote island beside a laptop tallying up the money rolling in as dumb laborers in some grungy industrial town far away work in sweatshops to scratch together enough money for rent, food, clothing and maybe every now and then a cigarette.

You just assumed that someone was paying attention.

Nat Simons of Renaissance Technologies, quoted in Malcolm Gladwell, “Talking to Strangers”, chapter 4, audio version 12:52 [talking about the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme fiasco]

Apparently, no one was paying attention to the ponzi scheme fraud perpetrated by Bernie Madoff – nor to any of the dozens of cases of crimes against humanity documented in Malcolm Gladwell’s book. There are many many more cases throughout the 20th Century where apparently no one was paying attention. In most industrial countries a large portion of the population ingest chemicals to help them pay less attention, produced by industries making ever more profits. Is this a case of automaticity in action? Is this good or bad, right or wrong?

Many industries reap large profits by manipulating information such that humans automatically behave in ways reminiscent of Pavlov’s experiments with dogs. These industries are able to reap so much profit, that they are willing and able to invest large sums into research and development – not about products or services, but rather about marketing products and services to consumers willing and able to pay for them, leading to more profits for these industries. Is this a case of automaticity in action?

When we utilize a search algorithm, are we aware of the way that search algorithm works? A few years ago, I asked Matt Mullenweg to pay attention to this question. There were thousands of software developers in the room – you could hear a pin drop. Later, several developers spoke with me and laughed at how absurd it was for me to question Google’s authority in this field. Is this a case of automaticity in action?

The 20th Century is over, but we need to be aware of our roots. There are legacy technologies. Each legacy technology potentially gives rise to its own distinct legacy automaticity. We are morally accountable for our decisions to use a technology, or to refrain from using it. If Greta Thunberg can choose to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a boat, you can choose to behave rationally the next time you search for information.

We are free to choose. Will we choose the automatism of a Pavlov dog? Sometimes, yes. Always? Well, maybe we ought to ponder the alternatives a little more….

* I am reminded here of Susan Sontag’s excellent “Regarding the Pain of Others” – if you need a little more disgust in your life, I recommend picking up a copy.

[thank u, next]

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Automatism + Automaticity – First Thoughts

Automatism and automaticity are “real concepts”, but they are not widely used … or at least not widely used everywhere in the same way.

One of the fields where these concepts are most widely used is in the broad field of medicine (or even more broadly biology). Here, the conceptual nomenclature is sometimes more focused on automatism, sometimes more on automaticity – but in either case it is primarily concentrated on how the central nervous system signals certain processes to function automatically. This might involve simple things like breathing or regular heart functioning, or also more complex behaviors such as jumping when startled or walking without precisely being aware of the movements of our limbs, feet, the muscles involved, etc. Although I am by no means a specialist in these fields, my impression is that such automatism / automaticity are very fundamental, basic functioning – closely associated with the brain stem, the amygdala, “lizard brain” thinking, etc. My gut feeling impression also leads me to believe that there are good reasons for such automatism / automaticity to have been useful from an evolutionary perspective (e.g. jumping up into a tree might have been a good way to survive at one point in time).

Let me fast forward hundreds of millennia, or maybe even a couple million years to the present. A few hundred years ago, there were many technological breakthroughs (for example: the printing press). Soon thereafter, many related developments led to what many people today refer to as “democratic government” – what is usually referred to here is what Tom Paine meant when he wrote “in America, law is king”. Of course the Magna Carta was also a law that could be relied on, but these new forms of government introduced and expanded constitutions and similar legal rule-based systems greatly. Today, we live in a world that is to a very significant degree based on written laws. Oddly, human lives are from this perspective actually controlled by written codes.

The way I see it, both of these phenomena are about automatism / automaticity. In both cases, things that happen … happen automatically.

Indeed, there are (in my humble opinion) many phenomena throughout the everyday lives of humans, perhaps throughout all of life in general which are embedded with principles of automatism / automaticity. One of the primary reasons we aren’t talking a whole lot about them is that these things seem invisible to our awareness, or perhaps so blatantly obvious that we don’t ever mention them because we’re convinced they must be plain and simple “common sense”.

These days, such “common sense” attitudes seem to becoming more widespread. People who have been following my writings for a while will probably not be shocked to hear me say that I have been becoming increasingly alarmed at the apparently unbridled naiveté with which the vast majority of the online population surfs the World-Wide Web.

Yet my incessant discussions with friends about issues related to my exasperation over the overwhelming degree of illiteracy and the continued lack of enlightenment with respect to rational information-seeking behaviors have now led me to what I consider to be a truly rewarding outcome: Automation is not inherently good or evil; and it is a human moral imperative to pay attention to “right automation”.

What does that mean?

I don’t know yet, but I want to find out. One method I would suggest to start off with is by process of elimination – right automation is not wrong automation. I would say that first hypnotizing someone and then commanding the hypnotized patient to drink a lethal dose of poison ought to obviously qualify as wrong automation – and I would add that there do seem to be such prohibitive laws in cases of torture, inhumane acts, etc.

I hope that such extremely dire cases of depressing despotism are rare. I expect that we will increasingly pay attention to increasingly reasonable logic, rationality and reasoning as we think more and more about methods that could be automated, that ought to be automated and so on.

For example, consider search algorithms: Do we want search results to show links to any result based simply upon how much money will be paid (whether by us or by someone else)? Or based upon whether sufficient money is paid and whether the person (or computer or smartphone or robot or whatever) searching is in the United States, Europe or some other location? Do we always want the same results, or do we want the types of results we get to depend also on our own wishes? In other words, do we want to have several algorithms at our disposal – such that we would be free to choose which algorithm we want to use right here, right now, right for us? These are just some more or less random examples; I hope I will be able to figure out a somewhat more rational approach to the vast field of possibilities in some kind of reasonable way.

Let me end this first essay with such an exercise in rationality. I will use the term “automatism” to refer to the actual automation development process. For individual instances of automation, I will use “automaticity”. I think this will be roughly equivalent to the evolutionary terms “ontogenesis” (or here, “automaticity”) and “phylogenesis” (in this case, “automatism”). I think this distinction is worthwhile because I expect there might be cases in which it would make sense to think about the principles that underlie the evolution of automation versus the automaticity of any particular automaton.

[thank u, next]

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Only Fools Rush in to Build on Top of Closed (Secret, Proprietary) Platforms

Last week Amnesty International published a report about the online platforms of the leading surveillance giants – see my brief post about it @ Find News.

What I find particularly signficant about the news is not the recommendations for public policy, but rather the recognition of the free markets that there are now two (2) surveillance sherrifs in town – just about a decade ago, the online surveillance market was completely dominated by one (1) single surveillance monopoly power. That monopolist company still rules the Internet, but now at least most people realize that Google is no longer the only game in town.

Nonetheless, most fools on the Internet still don’t understand how foolish they obviously are.

Innumerable fools – among them the billions of suckers and leading stalwart, public companies – continue to sign up and give their private data freely in exchange for worthless garbage. The platforms they sign up for are a convoluted mess of smoke-and-mirrors that are reminiscent of a Kafka-esque machine-in-a-box, run by some Dr. Seuss character ready, willing and able to sell „stars upon thars“ to anyone prepared to cough up a little (and in some cases a lot of) cash.

The magic machinery promises to deliver results.

Western civilization has been here before. The results were: The Protestant Reformation and The French Revolution. In case you’re having difficulty connecting the dots – the story doesn’t end well for the Roman Catholic Church (even though it still seems like they’re doing OK today).

Another result was Gutenberg’s invention of the Printing Press – yet this was probably at least as much a result of the humanistic attitudes developing in Renaissance Italy… perhaps a century (or more) earlier. Another result of the Printing Press (besides The Protestant Reformation) was the birth of The Scientific Method, which in turn resulted in The Industrial Revolution, which led to further economic development … and finally: here we are!

Most of the significant technological development over the past 5 centuries are built upon a strong foundation of open and transparent information. Why would any rational human being ignore this obvious fact, and instead invest their entire future in a clandestine organization which promises better results brought to you by a secret formula?

Your guess is as good as mine! 😉

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How to make facts

A guy named Edward Snowden was interviewed on the Joe Rogan Experience recently, and here is something he said:

This is the context: You say you know, and — you know, let’s put it the other way: maybe you do know. Maybe you are an academic researcher, maybe you’re a technological specialist, maybe you’re just someone who reads all of the reporting and you actually know. You can’t prove it, but you know this is going on. But that’s the thing in a democracy: the distance between speculation and fact. The distance between what you know and what you can prove to everybody else in the country is everything in our model of government — because what you know doesn’t matter; what matters is what we all know … and the only way we can all know it is if someone can prove it, if you can prove it … and if you don’t have the evidence you can’t prove it.

JRE #1368 1:51:50 – 1:52:35

Could we please sit back for a moment and ponder that suggestion in the context of science and the scientific method? Science can’t prove anything, but what Mr. Snowden is suggesting is that evidence can — and that it’s the only thing that can. I realize that many scientists as well as numerous lawyers may very well shake their heads and scoff at such a simplistic confusion of the term “evidence” from two completely different fields, two completely different traditions, two vastly separated realms of knowledge.

Yet what about the millions of men and women in the streets? What does the twitter universe tweet out across the world ad nauseam? Facts, evidence, and insurmountable floods of gossip — wrongdoing, rightdoing, likes, dislikes, regurgitation of suppositions, and whatnot other similar processed foods for thought.

We live in a land plagued with schizophrenia: on the one hand modern scientists maintain that nothing in the universe can ever be proven, but on the other hand modern journalists provide reams of evidence on a daily basis to prove to the public some facts as undeniable. This daily digest of tidbit proofs is leading to data flooding and causing catastrophic psychological indigestion for the countless global masses.

Is it possible in this day and age to reconcile these opposite world views, to bring about a little hope for coherence in our data and media diet? Why don’t we presume innocence before bombing the world to smithereens? Why can’t we acknowledge that we don’t know? Why not refute the notion of undeniability (is that even a word — how about “incontestability”)? Is there in fact no such thing as a self-evident proof?

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RE: On Bullshit

A friend of mine recently mentioned he has back-ordered “On Bullshit” (by Harry Frankfurt) and I thought “oh neat – maybe I can borrow it sometime for a day or two”… but then I realized something. Bullshit is not rare or special or in any way particular. It is widespread. Everywhere you look, you can see bullshit converging in on you. I am no more interested in studying bullshit than I am in investigating the tons of junk and/or fecal matter that might arrive at any number of dumps on a daily basis across the planet. I don’t care about the meaningless 99%, I want to know what makes the 1% especially meaningful. My gut feeling tells me that in order to cut the crap a person must care about something in particular. I was trained by the Strunk & White school of thought which dictated that words must be chosen wisely and also with both precision and accuracy. Rationality is a very surgical matter, and errors are simply unacceptable. This reminds me of another thought I recently had whilst wallowing through yet another quagmire of apparently endless streams of text: if you want to write something meaningful, then the meaning you want to write down is enough. I don’t need to know whether it’s your birthday or whether something else happened – just tell me what you want me to know or think or feel or whatever.
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Some Reflections on the Revolution in Propaganda

More or less exactly ten generations after Edmund Burke’s treatise concerning the French Revolution and roughly about twenty generations after the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press, I would like to give you a small update on the state of news, media and publishing following the advent of modern computers on the dissemination landscape.

In this endeavor, I will utilize a case study involving a podcast video on the interwebs, in particular youtube.com, which I hope will help by providing a graphic illustration of what’s going on right now. The case in point is a discussion between an evolutionary biologist, William von Hippel, and a media magnate, Joe Rogan, concerning the publication of Mr. von Hippel’s new neato book titled “The Social Leap”. I shared a link to the entire discussion a couple weeks ago, here I wish to focus on a short segment starting at 2:08:55.

Originally, my fascination with the topic centered on the origins of human language, but unfortunately there was hardly any discussion of this during the podcast. Although there are many fascinating points regarding the evolution of homo sapiens, very little (if anything at all) was directly related to the genesis of human language. I have often noted that the very first line in the Bible’s book of Genesis directly indicates “the word” as being at the beginning of human history, but exactly how this first word was ever spoken remains an enigma. My own hunch is that it followed other types of expression – such as body language, facial expressions and the like – and that several rather complex communicative norms needed to become institutionalized (and that language was therefore perhaps far more difficult to develop than other technologies). I imagine that three evolutionary developments might have been particularly advantageous, namely: 1. increased brain size; 2. “whites” of eyes; and 3. improved vocal apparatus. Mr. von Hippel also mentions the first two of these developments.

I have heard Noam Chomsky give a ball-park estimate of ca. 75 thousand years ago for the approximate beginnings of language. Most of the developments mentioned by Mr. von Hippel predate that by a longshot, but the segment I mentioned above (2:08:55) has to do with a development that is undoubtedly much newer, since it is about reasoning and argumentation (which as far as I know must require language). The segment begins with a discussion of confirmation bias, and Mr. von Hippel then mentions a 2011 paper written by Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber, saying the paper shows that humans actually evolved to use confirmation bias to persuade each other of their own opinions rather than actually trying to find out what is actually true. I was shocked by this statement and read the original article. Upon doing so, it became clear to me that Mr. von Hippel had misrepresented the original findings – and I have contacted Hugo Mercier and he assures me that my shock was indeed warranted.

Mercier & Sperber (2011), on the contrary, contends that while the confirmation bias may very well be active when producing arguments, it is largely inactive during the evaluation of arguments. This symbiotic relationship is crucial, and to overlook it is a gross distortion of the findings. Why did this happen?

I believe the answer to this question involves yet another development in the history of human languages, perhaps even newer than the “Why do humans reason?” development of argumentation proposed by Mercier & Sperber. Perhaps the earliest records of writing date back to cave paintings and sculptures made by humans tens of thousands of years ago, but the development of writing systems standardized enough to be used for communication across larger stretches of space and time required the development of more advanced social institutionalization – perhaps dating back no further than just about 10,000 years (in other words, only ca. 500 generations).

For most of this time, writing was extremely limited and was only available to the most educated classes. Therefore, any ideas shared would only be written down if they passed the muster of such highly educated gatekeepers. In my humble opinion, this recurring process led to the development of something I wish to refer to as a publication bias – a “believability” of ideas that have been written down. Shortly after the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press a little over 500 years ago, the world up to that point was shaken up briefly… but that came to an end when copyright law was established and the production of large-scale printing presses became prohibitively expensive. For the past several hundred years, the publication bias has largely been reinstitutionalized, though the publishing industry became highly fragmented (from a church monopoly before 1500 to a plethora of publishing gatekeepers thereafter). The new gatekeepers were governed by many laws, and thereby it was possible to control the dissemination of information. Early modern information technologies such as telegraph, telephone, radio, television, etc. did little to change that.

What did change it was the advent of the personal computer. Desktop publishing was hardly a challenge to traditional publishing, but electronic publishing is marching forwards in leaps and bounds on its way to completely eradicating the titans of the paper era. Day after day, the cost of publishing information across the entire globe continues to new record-setting lows. It is a well-known, commonplace fact that publishing technology has now also been birthed from Pandora’s box, and that it is now nearly everywhere, cheap and easy to use… for anyone.

And therein lies the rub: The days of publishing gatekeepers are finally over. Clicking a button is not at all difficult to do… and so everyone’s doing it.

The result we need to face today is that the publication bias – the naive trust in written information – is (or at least should be) also gone, probably forever (or at least for the “foreseeable future”).

And yet likewise we see virtually on a daily basis that the publication bias is actually very far from gone. On the contrary: not only do old habits die hard, but now we have even more, new and improved, of such biases. Perhaps leading the pack is the modern brand name – completely vacuous and empty, but highly valued, exclusive and nearly impenetrable to most rational thought processes. Brands carry the weight of innumerable imaginary people, built up over years, decades if not centuries. Such colossal weight bogs the average human’s mind, and the most popular brands are revered as gods, never to be doubted or questioned. What previously had been delegated to print, today can fly as high as Coca-cola, Apple, Amazon, Facebook or Google or YouTube or untold other brands. No longer is the sky the limit, either – no, these fantastic companies will fly to the moon, Mars and far beyond into space, reaching for the stars.

Will ordinary humans ever come back down to earth? How will we ever be able to re-introduce a modicum of rationality into our species? Perhaps we should untie ourselves from our slavery to brands, brand names, megalithic monopolistic enterprises and such. Maybe we should return to ordinary communications – straight talk, free of mumbo jumbo.

Luckily, the founders of the Internet apparently did have enough foresight to foresee the potential dangers of centralized information resources. The technology at the basis of modern civilization today is actually not the problem. The problem is modern human behavior, especially the way modern humans behave in groups. We have seen this time and again throughout the 20th Century, now we must “human up” and become more reasonable.

We must learn to recognize the difference between fake and real. This is actually not as difficult as it sounds. What makes it relatively simple is when we simply recognize that the human languages we use on a daily basis are our own, and that we are free to communicate our ideas, wants and needs as we please. We don’t need no central authority to control our thoughts. We don’t need no dictator to figure out the truth. We can rely on what we understand from humans, and also that we will be understood by humans. Humans are rational beings – and that means they will rationalize their ideas, each according to their own language. Mutual understanding among humans is the primary goal we must strive for. Regular ordinary straight talk is the basis of human rationality, and it is time we recognize this fact and reestablish regular ordinary straight talk into our daily lives, our information and communication technologies and our entire media landscape.

We should not trust that Joe Rogan or William von Hippel are right. We should not feel secure that the big data algorithms of YouTube or Google will watch out for us. We need to open our own eyes for ourselves and take a good hard look at reality – because that is what matters.

One last point I wish to address is an issue that I feel could easily lead to a misunderstanding. While I argue that brand names are inadequate as symbols of trust or reliability, brand names do serve a constructive purpose, function and useful role in the modern social order. These labels and identifiers enable us to refer to individuals, individual entities, individual processes and distinct, unique phenomena we engage with and participate in on a daily basis. Therefore, they serve an integral role in our entire social fabric. Note, though, that our ability to reference such entities and phenomena has very little to do with the trustworthiness of the entities or phenomena themselves, but rather with the trustworthiness of the social order – for example, a well-functioning legal framework that forms the basis of such well-established social institutions as private property, fair trade, open communications, etc.

Meaningful information requires language, and meaningful accounting requires itemization. Bringing both of these phenomena together is a matter of dovetailing information organized via language with the accountability of big data bases. If you would like to participate in helping to make this happen, I invite you to get up and sign up with phenomenonline.com!

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